KNOXVILLE — Jimmy Duncan, R-Knoxville, the long-serving congressman in Tennessee’s 2nd District, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election next year.
Duncan, who has strong Scott County ties, was first elected in a 1988 special election, replacing his father, John J. Duncan Sr., who was ill with cancer.
Collectively, the father and son duo represented the 2nd District — which once included Scott County — for 52 years. Jimmy Duncan has been in office for 29 of those years.
In a statement, Duncan said he had pondered retirement even prior to the 2016 election.
“Since then, in part, because people knew or assumed that I might be thinking about retiring, I have never had so many people urging me to run again,” Duncan said. “Also, because of the recent attacks against me from the far left, my support among the conservative base has never been more enthusiastic. I am grateful for their kind expressions of support, however, now is the time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.”
Duncan’s announcement reverberated among the state’s GOP statesmen on Monday.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said that Duncan had a “no-nonsense, principled approach to public service,” and that his leadership will be missed.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., added that “no one has done a better job staying in touch with his constituents than Jimmy has.”
Duncan’s announcement came just days ahead of an anticipated announcement by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett about his own political future. Burchett, who is term-limited in Knoxville, has ruled out a run for governor but was widely rumored to be considering a primary battle against Duncan next year.
“He has been a consistent, conservative voice for the 2nd District, and he’s represented us well,” Burchett said Monday. “Few families have made a bigger impact in East Tennessee than the Duncan family, and I have no doubt they will continue to make a difference.”
The timing of the separate announcements by the two men helped fuel speculation that Burchett will announce Saturday that he will seek to replace Duncan in Congress.
Duncan’s father, John J. Duncan Sr., was a Scott County native — the son of Flem and Cassie Duncan of Helenwood. Among his siblings was Joe Duncan, who enjoyed an impressive career in the judiciary, beginning as a criminal court judge in Knoxville.
While Duncan is hailed as a consistent conservative, he has also carved out an independent path in Congress. Most notably, he was one of just six Republicans to vote against the war in Iraq. It was a decision that he later called one of the toughest of his congressional career.
“I have a very conservative Republican district,” Duncan said. “My Uncle Joe is one of the most respected judges in Tennessee. When I get in a really serious bind I go to him for advice. I had breakfast with him and my two closest friends and all three told me that I had to vote for the war. It’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever gone against my Uncle Joe’s advice. When I pushed that button to vote against the war back in 2002, I thought I might be ending my political career.”
A 17-year veteran of the Army National Guard, Duncan served as a state court judge in Knox County from 1981 until his election to Congress in 1988. The Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law is named for him.